If you don’t know what it is, it’s okay, you’re not alone. I imagine most of us who don’t have a close relationship with diabetes only really get a picture about insulin from the movies; syringes, blood pricks to test sugar, that sort of thing. Let’s explore a little so we know what we’re talking about, and I promise, we’ll soon get to the good bits: LC recipes, side effects like carb flu (I know, sounds awful, but it’s good to know about!), and foods you can enjoy to the end of the world. They’re coming, I promise.
So. Insulin. Master hormone, expert sugar manager, secreted by the pancreas. It can kill you, save your life, or just go about its business without you ever knowing a thing about it. A couple of years ago someone very close to me nearly died of pancreatitis (this is what happens when the pancreas goes postal for whatever reason) and one of the godlike nurses said: ‘Forget liver failure, we can fix that. If your pancreas goes you drop dead, no questions asked.’ That’s the thing: when your pancreas fails, it can dump insulin into your system, and too much insulin in your system will kill you.
But apart from that morbid anecdote, insulin is quite awesome. Wikipedia will tell you that insulin is a ‘peptide hormone’, which means a lot of complicated medically things that aren’t really important; what we need to know here is that insulin is vital in the regulation of carbohydrates and fat metabolism. Here, let me give you an excerpt from Diabetes Australia – an excellent source of information for diabetics, I must add:
“Insulin is a hormone made by beta cells in the pancreas. When we eat, insulin is released into the blood stream where it helps to move glucose from the food we have eaten into cells to be used as energy. In people with diabetes the body produces little or no insulin.
For Type 1 – In people with type 1 diabetes, the body produces little or no insulin as the cells that produce insulin have been destroyed by an autoimmune reaction in the body. Insulin replacement is required by daily injections.
For Type 2 – In people with type 2 diabetes the body produces insulin but the insulin does not work as well as it should. This is often referred to as insulin resistance. To compensate the body makes more but eventually cannot make enough to keep the balance right. Lifestyle changes can delay the need for tablets and/or insulin to stabilise blood glucose levels. When insulin is required, it is important to understand that this is just the natural progression of the disease.”
At this stage, insulin can only be injected.
Insulin cannot be given in tablet form as it would be destroyed in the stomach. This means that the insulin would not be available to convert glucose into energy.”
In a nutshell: insulin makes sure that the sugars we consume don’t stay in the bloodstream where they can become poisonous. This means that the moment you eat something carby, like a piece of bread, your body releases a certain amount of insulin to turn the sugars you get out of the bread into energy that you then use for energy. What we need to remember here is this: sugars are considered toxic – glucose toxicity I believe it’s called, please correct me if I’m wrong! – so the body will burn them up as quick as it can. People with diabetes (I & II) or high insulin resistence (pre-diabetics, for example) don’t get enough of the hormone to deal with the sugars in their food, thus the insulin injections and blood testing. Insulin aims at keeping the body running by maintaining a steady flow of energy – i.e. high blood sugar = bad, too low blood sugar = can also be bad. When there’s no sugar left to burn, insulin turns its attention to sugar it’s put aside earlier which is when we finally start losing weight. Your liver – a big player in all this right along side your pancreas – is where this all really happens; your liver, with the aid of all that insulin, transforms sugars into fuel and once the fuel guage is full, it’ll turn it into fatty acids (there’s the fat you were looking for!) that’s then stored throughout the body – which is where body fat comes from. Too fatty can lead to organ damage, which (obviously!) be extremely detrimental to your health! It raises blood pressure, decreases metabolism, and can mess up your immune system – all of which can lead to things like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hormonal imbalances.
This is why a lot of people turn to Low Gi or Low Carb lifestyles: one of the goals of these diets is to keep your blood sugar as level as possible.
So, summary: Insulin is important, you need it to turn carbs into fuel. Excess sugar carbs turn into fat. Too much fat is bad.
And that’s enough about insulin for now. There’s a lot more information about it out there online, from far more reputable people than I so if my ramblings haven’t made too much sense, do a Google search.
Most definitely check out http://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/, and as always, make sure sources you use are reliable, don’t just use Wikipedia as gospel. Be smart.
Clear Skies, Vee